Understanding your Climate – Part 3

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As I said in Part 1, which covered Tropical Gardening, and Part 2, which covered Temperate gardening, when it comes to gardening one of the most important things that you need to know and understand is what climate that you live in. Australia has 3 (or 4) main climate zones, tropical (and sub tropical), temperate and cool(or cold) climates. In Part 3 I am going to discuss the third and final climate zone, Cold (or cool) climates.

Though I have not technically lived in a ‘cold’ climate, the country town that I grew up in would be right on the border or temperate and cold, if it weren’t right on the coast (and therefore not needing a border line) with its climate regularly being compared to Tasmania, a cold climate. As such, I have a pretty good grasp on how the cooler temperate location I grew up in would correspond to an actual cold Australian climate.

What makes it a cold climate?
Cold climates are generally influenced by there proximity to either the North or South pole, though there are other things which can cause a colder climate, such as mountain ranges. This is why there is a odd shaped cold climate region on the east coast of Australia, right around the great dividing range. The southern most part of the East Coast is also considered to be a cold climate.

What is considered a cold climate in Australia and what is considered a cold climate in other parts of the world does also vary but one of the main considerations for a place to be considered a cold climate is does it receive snow. Now granted, the snow that cold climates receive in Australia is minimal compared to other places around the world, this is still a consideration. This does not mean, however, that everywhere that is considered cold receives snow. Melbourne city rarely, if ever, receives snow but the mountain ranges in Victoria are covered. Parts of Tasmania and also the Blue Mountains in NSW also receive big portions of snow, in general, throughout winter and this is partially why they are considered cold climates.

Characteristics of a Cold Climate
Here are some of the characteristics of a cool/cold climate in Australia;

  • Warm, mildly wet summers (compared to Temperate regions)
  • Cold, wet winters
  • Frosts are pretty much guaranteed
  • Some parts generally experience snow

What’s this mean for gardening?
The key word for this climate is cold. If a plant is going to survive in a cold climate it has to be able to acclimatise to cold weather, pretty much meaning it must be able to survive frosts and many plants just can’t do this. Plants which are native to and thrive in the hot, humid rainforests of the tropics are probably going to struggle if they have to cope with snow. A lot of plants which thrive in cold conditions do so by dropping their leaves in winter and going into a dormant state. These plants are called deciduous plants. Now, as Australia’s cold climate is actually quite mild in world comparisons, we have very few plants that are truly deciduous, but many do limit their growth throughout the cooler months. This is mostly important if you want to plant shrubs or trees from other countries, deciduous shrubs and trees would likely do well in a cold climate.

A big upside to this climate is it generally experience more rain than does a temperate climate, which means plants don’t have to worry as  much about conserving water. As such, there are many varieties endemic to a colder climate which, though happy during the winter in a temperate zone, really struggle during summer due to the reduced rain fall, or, as is probably more true, rain fall over fewer days. Much of Australia’s temperate zones receives as much rain as the cold area’s, they just receive it in big bursts where as colder climates often have more days of light rain.

Hopefully this series has helped you to better understand the climate that you live in and will help you make good plant choices for your garden!

All my best articles have been collected into what I’m calling the ultimate gardening toolkit – make sure you take a look, there’s a heap of great gardening advice available. I’ve also published a series of gardening ebooks that you might be interested in. Good luck!